If you’ve never heard of XCOM, you are not alone, which is a shame. Firaxis Games revolutionized turn-based combat by reinventing the 1994 cult classic UFO: Enemy Unknown and releasing it as XCOM: Enemy Unknown and later XCOM: Enemy Within. Through their unique mechanics and addicting and deep gameplay, both of these games set the bar for modern turn-based strategy games. Did anyone expect anything less from the creators of one of the greatest series of all time in Civilization? They aimed for even greater heights in XCOM 2. How did they fare? Let’s find out.
Developed by: Firaxis Games
Published by: 2K
Release date: February 5th, 2016
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC (Reviewed on PC)
Launch Price: 59.99 USD
Story & Setting
XCOM 2 is set in the aftermath of its predecessor and you find your self picking up the pieces of what is left of the human race 20 years after the conquest of Earth by the hostile alien invaders. In the opening sequence you are made aware that you are in fact the same nameless faceless protagonist you were in the first game. Welcome back Commander. Several of the same characters return, giving the game a nostalgic feel that immediately sucks you right back in like you’d never missed a beat. Manning the Avenger, you must guide the Resistance to victory over the alien overlords in the face of almost certain defeat.
The game does a fantastic job of taking a relatively simple plot and making it cinematic, dramatic and intense throughout the course of the game. The voice acting, the cinematography, and the pacing make the game not just a turn-based strategy, but one with real depth and substance. In games like Civilization you simply play for the gameplay and experience, but in XCOM 2 the dramatic music and excellent narrative are evocative and I found myself engaged and my emotions invested in the outcome. Strategy games are not known to be the most immersive experiences, but XCOM 2’s pacing and polish manages this feat. That is not an easy thing to accomplish in this genre, so hats off to Firaxis here.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown was never really known for fantastic visuals. XCOM 2 aimed to rectify this, and to some degree they were successful. At first glance the game’s graphics are not too impressive, but the more you progress into the campaign, the more you realize how much work and detail has gone into every single map and level. Every building and vehicle all feature immense detail and objects catch fire, explode and make combat feel realistic. Unfortunately the game suffers from severe performance issues that make playing on max graphics all but impossible. I have a 970 GTX and I was unable to maintain 30 FPS at max settings and had to set it down to High to get a consistent 30 FPS. There were also a tremendous amount of visual and audio bugs during my playthroughs. Most were bearable, but I can’t remember the last time I saw so many bugs in a game at launch. Hopefully future patches will address these issues.
The sound and music are simply some of the best I have seen in a turn-based game to date, if not the best. The music gets your blood flowing and really makes you want to kick some alien ass and take names later! The sound of a shotgun blast to some alien face or a building exploding from a grenade you launched into it never gets old. The voice acting is some of the best in a game I’ve seen to date, and the timing of communications from your base to you give XCOM 2 such a blockbuster movie feel that you almost forget you are playing a game. You just feel like you are along for a ride.
This is where XCOM has ALWAYS shined and it is no different in XCOM 2. Players familiar with XCOM: Enemy Unknown will feel right at home and will be challenged at every turn by the game’s punishing difficulty. XCOM 2 is the Dark Souls of turn-based strategy. It’s brutal, unforgiving and even when everything is seemingly going right, you can still get completely wiped out in the blink of an eye. It took me 3 tries to complete the very first mission in the game and thanks to the random map generation, no 2 missions are ever alike which increases the challenge. You simply get better at playing the game or you get pummeled again and again until you improve. However, at the end of that extremely difficult mission is the satisfaction that you somehow found a way to overcome everything that the game threw you. And trust me, it throws everything it has at you and then some.
When not on the battlefield, players will have to manage their resources and upgrade the Avenger with new Facilities, and research technology that will allow for better equipment for their Soldiers. This all unfolds in a positive feedback loop that becomes incredibly deep. Managing your projects and the timing of your facilities’ construction and operation requires a lot of thought and careful planning, all of which is not immediately evident. The game does an ok job explaining the ins and outs but a lot has to be parsed out by the players. Taking the new goodies you’ve created, you will then have to outfit your units with whatever weapons, armor, utility items, grenades and ammunition you think they will need to complete the mission set before them. Soldiers rank up and gain new abilities as they survive missions, making them more powerful nearly every time they deploy. This makes you particularly attached to them, and also makes it quite painful when you lose a highly ranked Soldier on a mission. You can also customize nearly every Soldier you use, from their name, hair style, color, armor color, weapon color, nationality, and language they speak. You can make all of your friends into characters and fight to save the planet with them just like you used to do when you were 10 years old and playing with action figures. That alone adds an element of fun to the game that is amazingly satisfying.
XCOM 2 features a 1 vs. 1 PvP game type, just like Enemy Unknown. Players will be able to construct their squads with a max number of credits, with each Soldier and improvement to them costing a certain amount. Players can use every single human and alien found in the game in their squads, with combinations only being limited by the max number of credits you have to spend. In custom games you can raise this limit very high to allow for more options, but for ranked matches and quick matches it is fixed at 10,000. Unfortunately it seems as if most people are not playing multiplayer yet as it is extremely difficult to find a match, even a week after release. I played 4 games one day and it matched me against the same person all 4 times. He said he had been waiting a long time for a game which led me to think we were the only ones playing.
Multiplayer is also horribly unbalanced. Some units are just way way better than others for the cost. It really feels like this particular part of the game was just not shown the love and attention that the rest of the game was. This is unfortunate, since the multiplayer can be a lot of fun. As it stands now, the only way to guarantee you’ll enjoy your multiplayer experience is if you and a friend set a time to play together and set custom rules on what is allowed.
XCOM 2 was an ambitious endeavor by Firaxis Games, and even though the game is probably a patch or two away from full polish, it satisfied the XCOM itch that I’d been dying to scratch from the moment the sequel was announced. There are a few performance issues and some visual bugs that slightly detract from the experience but the game is simply too good to not forgive these issues. Firaxis and 2K nailed ALL of things that make a game great: A cinematic story, deep challenging gameplay, tons and tons of customization and lots of replay value because of their random level generator. If you’re a fan of table top games or have been looking for a good strategy game on PC, this is the game for you. If you are still unsure about spending 50$ on this game, do yourself a favor and go pick up XCOM: Enemy Unknown on Steam for 10$. If you don’t buy XCOM 2 immediately afterwards I would be absolutely shocked.
Good luck Commander.